Adventures in Rental: or the Tenant’s Tragedy

Despite the rather gloomy title, my experience of renting in Cheltenham has been fairly positive. One hears all kind of horror stories about terrible landlords and bad letting agents, but I strongly suspect the tenants often are just as awful!

Now I am messy. OK, I live in a state of chaos resembling that before God divided the firmament and the Earth, or before Marduk killed Tiamat, or whatever your preferred cosmology might be. If you want to see primal chaos and the aftermath of the big Bang, you don’t need the Large Hadron Collider – you can save 64 billion and just wander over  to my house. Except today it is tidy, cos I had a house inspection. Well comparatively!

The biggest down side to letting is without a doubt the lack of security. Every so often the landlord decides to sell up, and next thing you know you are looking for a new house. Also some landlords are insane – I have had two, one very very nice but quite mad, one a raving loony who is still breathing only because pity stayed my hand. Pity I ran out of bullets. (Ok, it’s a Bored of the Rings joke, but has some truth in this case!) This particular lady was – well nuts. But that was nearly twenty years ago. And her house did fall down – unfortunately while I was living in it!

Another constant – you tell people “I have cats”, you get it written in to the tenancy agreement, and then the landlord appears utterly shocked that you have cats! Not that cats smell (they do), or that cats eat the furniture – they do – or even that cats might shed hair all over the place. The very existence of a cat appears to come as a real surprise to some landlords. “what is that?” they ask looking nervous. “It’s a cat”. “I did not know you had a cat.” “Really? It’s written in the tenancy agreement as an addendum here, and you initialed it, signed it and said it was fine.” “Did I? I forgot! Oh, well it looks like a nice cat…”  One day I shall buy a pair of goats — I’m sure most landlords would be less surprised by that.

Now luckily my current landlady Polly knows me, knows how I live and even knows my cats, mainly cos I used to live as her neighbour. When I moved house I only moved three doors – more on which later – and Polly is very sweet, ruthlessly efficient and generally fun, and despite knowing me let me her house. No greater thing can a Landlord do! I could not ask for a nicer landlady. And she is un-phased by cats. She even knows what they look like! Polly is not someone I would ever cross – but she is good hearted and very fun to talk to!

So, what advice do I have for tenants? Well, firstly, always go through a letting agent. No matter how lovely your landlord, a letting agent really is worth their weight in gold.  I have been with several – the genial Alex Clarke, who runs a letting agency in Cheltenham, and who I lived in three houses managed by. Great bloke, friendly, good office staff, well worth considering. I briefly rented from Domus, the lovely Annette and then next up I was with Charles Lear – I still remember the wonderful Norman who used to come round and fix things, a top bloke –  Charles Lear are equally excellent.

Yet if I had to choose one letting agent above all others, as a landlord or a tenant, I think there is absolutely no contest. Martin & Co, Cheltenham are brilliant beyond compare. Absolutely fantastic. In twenty years of letting I have never experienced anything like the service, cheerful assistance and sheer dedication of these guys – a credit to their profession. They check the property every three months, and if something needs fixing it gets done, often the same day. The Lynall brothers, George Tatham-Losh and Liz are exemplary letting agents, and when the house I lived in needed a new roof we got a new roof.  And when it was necessary to move, they found me a house three doors away, and even helped with the moving situation.  First rate!

They understand housing law, the contracts are clear, and they were fine on references, credit checks etc. It was a nail-biting procedure, but it worked out fine. IT seems being an itinerant TV ghostbuster is acceptable, providing one can pay the rent! 🙂 So if you happen to be thinking of renting a property in Cheltenham, go to Martin & Co, and you will definitely receive first class service from a highly professional establishment run by genuinely great guys. I happen to know they have gone above and beyond the call of duty with other tenants as well, and with at least one landlord — and honestly, I’m not prone to praise letting agents giving that renting can be a fraught experience, but these guys have made it a pleasure!

So what advice can I give on renting? Here are CJ’s top five hints

1. Pay the rent – sounds simple, but amazingly many tenants don’t. Your rent is your number one priority. Sure, the landlord is wealthy, owns a house etc, etc. But they rely on you to pay them, and not doing so really is pretty low. They may have a mortgage, at commercial rate… so pay. On time. Always!

2. Tidy does not matter. Sure it helps – but the most important thing is to keep the property in good repair. This may mean haviung it painted, having carpets replaced, getting steam cleaners in from time to time, and conducting basic household maintenance. You can always tidy up – but broken fences, damaged fittings and chipped paintwork are things you need to deal with.

3. Get your washing machine insured. You will have contents insurance, its required by most letting agents, but pay extra for a washing machine repair cover. If your washing machine ever goes, it is a nightmare – not least when it leaks stagnant smelly water all over the kitchen. We are still recovering from this disaster. It might be covered by the landlord, so check!

4. Communicate. If there is a problem, tell the letting agent. The classic is a problem with the bank, happened to me a couple of times and I turned up with the rent in cash. I have a morbid fear of not paying the rent, but banks do cock up. If mould is slowly destroying the house, make sure they know!

5. Be honest. I’m a pretty crap tenant – but ultimately I respect the fact it’s not my house so when push comes to shove i’ll move heaven and earth to make it nice when I move out. There is no point in pretending you live a monk like existence if wild metal parties every friday are your idea of a good time. I don’t have parties, but I have plenty of other weird habits – like owning a cat – so make sure you tell them upfront. It’s easier in the long run. And when the house collapses round your ears, and the council come to dig an inspection pit in your kkitchen or you need a new roof to stop the black mould eating your socks – well the landlord and letting agent will be friendlier if they know your foibles, and are not surprised by the goats in leather underwear patiently munching on the carpet!

Hope amuses!

cj x

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About Chris Jensen Romer

I am a profoundly dull, tedious and irritable individual. I have no friends apart from two equally ill mannered cats, and a lunatic kitten. I am a ghosthunter by profession, and professional cat herder. I write stuff and do TV things and play games. It's better than being real I find.
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